Hospitals, in addition to providing health care to patients, employ a sizeable workforce, may have numerous students particularly if they are large public teaching hospitals, and receive many visitors. Given this, they generate significant demand for travel.
Hospitals are also the most visible and largest component of the health system and are in prime position to promote health and wellbeing, including walking and other modes of active travel.
A number of public hospitals in Sydney are located within a 15 minute walk from railway stations and are also accessible by bus.
One walk I am familiar with is from Blacktown Railway Station to Blacktown Hospital. A browse on the website of Blacktown Hospital/Western Sydney Local Health District provides some information on access to the Hospital. Priority is given to access by car with a general instruction as to which motorway to use, a map of the hospital and surrounding streets, and car parking fees for visitors. Regarding public transport, the website indicates it is an approximately 10 to 15 minute walk to the station. A walking map is not provided.
The walk is comfortably done in fifteen minutes and is overall an interesting and fairly attractive one. Once you leave the train, there are steps or an escalator to take you down to street level (Main Street). The walk along Main Street is fascinating, with its many shop fronts representing store holders from Asia and Africa. There are a number of restaurants and other food outlets, with tables and chairs on the pavement.
The major road crossing is the intersection of Sunnyholt Road and Main Street (which becomes Blacktown Road a few meters later). The timing of the pedestrian lights is quite reasonable, i.e. not too long to wait and enough time to cross the road. Blacktown Road is a busy, multi lane arterial road, and I learnt early on to get off it as soon as I could, taking a right hand turn into Hereward Highway (in spite of its name it is a quiet suburban street) then a couple of blocks later turning left onto Grafton Street. There is nothing attractive about walking along a main road, and taking side streets reduces exposure to noise and air pollution.
Once you walk along Grafton Street, the last road to cross is Marcel Crescent (shown at the top) and there is now a pedestrian crossing, installed within the last twelve months.
The promotion of the walk and the walk itself could be improved by:
- Prioritising public transport over car travel on the Hospital website and providing a walking map
- Improving signage to guide people from the Railway Station to the Hospital. There is no sign to the Hospital within the Railway Station concourse, and I was told there is one on street level as you leave the Station but I missed it. There is one sign at the corner of Main Street and Sunnyholt Road however it is set at a height targeting motor vehicle drivers not walkers
- Installation of a bubbler/water bottle filler at the above intersection, outside Blacktown TAFE.
There are a number of enablers that warrant further consideration to improve travel between public transport modes and the Hospital.
- Improved access to the Hospital by people with limited mobility. Buses may be a better option and there may need to be improvements made to pavements etc to enable a continuous accessible path of travel
- Addressing personal safety particularly for walkers outside normal business hours
- Unlocked accessible toilets for walkers
- Ways to cool down the walk. More tree planting may help, as well as using materials other than concrete to construct pavements.
It is worth noting that Blacktown City Council is planning a major redevelopment of the Blacktown City Centre – the Warrick Lane Redevelopment. This presents an opportunity for the residents of Blacktown and visitors to shape the city centre for the people and make it a more walkable place.